Presidential Optimism is Not Called for at the Moment

Presidential optimism is generally a good quality. Leaders need to project hope and a positive outlook. It is best, I think, that our commander-in-chief believes that what he is doing in the world militarily is both good and necessary, even though evil is often done while pursuing the good. Confusion, doubt and pessimism do not breed success. President Bush seems to be the most optimistic leader that we have had in my lifetime, at least from all we can see in public. He seems to never have a serious doubt regarding his plans and how things will end up if we follow his leadership. Some of this seems to be rooted in his love for our country and sense of personal peace. Some is obviously a part of his unique personality. The rest I will leave to others, and finally to God, to decide. He “stands or falls to his own master” just as you and I do. The difference is that we are a republic of the people and we must make judgments that do have an impact upon how we view our leaders and give them or support, or otherwise.

On Thursday of last week the White House released its latest assessment of the war in Iraq. The report card is anything but promising. On 8 of 18 benchmarks set by the Congress the White House says there has been “satisfactory progress.” This failing grade was enough to lead President Bush to grant a generally positive approval to our continued efforts there. I have to confess that I had hoped the “surge” might bring about military progress in Baghdad but there is very little evidence of that actually happening at the moment. Even my military friends have very grave doubts at this point.

The report further noted there has been improvement in several areas: reducing sectarian violence and moving toward constitutional revision are two that were highlighted. But the same report, and remember this is not the report of the Democratic opposition but the White House’s own report, said many of our plans were not going well at all. Disarming militias, getting Iraqi forces to fight on their own and coming up with a fair way to divvy up the country’s oil revenue were all seen as failures at the present moment.

I want us to succeed in this war, I really do. I have held various opinions of it over the course of our struggle in Iraq. I doubted our entry was truly necessary at the beginning and thus have wavered back-and-forth since. Thomas Ricks, a fine contemporary military historian, convinced me in his best-selling book Fiasco that we were unprepared for this conflict from the get-go. We did not understand our enemy or the social, religious and political context we entered. Without such understanding our military efforts were almost bound to fail. These miscalculations have cost us dearly. I am now persuaded, against all my personal hopes to the contrary, that we can not succeed in Iraq.

Will leaving Iraq this year, or early next year, guarantee a massacre? I do not know. Staying for the long term doesn’t guarantee U.S. success at all. If my own son or daughter were there right now I would have to say that I would have a sick feeling about them staying much longer as it has become more and more apparent that our goals cannot be reached by our military presence.

I have often resisted the frequent comparisons of the mainstream media to Vietnam. Today I discussed this with a lifelong friend and a wounded Vietnam vet. We had to agree about the comparisons. Then watching the documentary “The Fog of War,” with former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara speaking about his own experience of that particular war, I am now completely convinced that the parallels are uncanny. Yes, there are some differences but the end result is about the same with maybe one exception. Our hubris in this new case might be even worse than in the previous conflict, given the results that we’ve had over the last five years and our clear failure to understand the enemy and the country that we invaded.

What this means for the future of the Middle East is anyone’s guess. Everyone has an idea and yet no one really knows in the end. What does seem apparent is that at some point President Bush will have to concede that his optimism has been grossly misplaced. I hope he does this sooner than later but given the nature of how he thinks and leads I have my real doubts. I do not write this as a partisan for either side but as an American who has tried to hear our leader as honestly as I know how and doubts his course now quite seriously. I am simply convinced that he is way too optimistic. What I do not know, and thus will leave to biographers and historians to sort out, is why and what makes him this way.

And historians will have to judge the successes and failures of President Bush, not the media or his critics. (Harry Truman left office with very low approval ratings and yet he is now seen as one of our better presidents.) But, at this very moment staying the course in Iraq does not seem to be in the country’s real interest. As a citizen of this great nation my mind has fought against this conclusion for some time but I am now sadly persuaded that this is so. I pray that we might seek God and humbly turn to him in repentance. I pray we will then ask: “What can we learn from our failures?” This is not a left or right issue. Both sides have made a lot of mistakes. It is time to stop the blaming and to act with justice and mercy, humbly seeking God. Knowing when and how to do that requires wisdom. I pray God will give that to our very optimistic President. 

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